“Sometimes on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one”

When anyone asks me if they should apply for Bus2alps, to begin the process of trying to take flight and become a traveler, adventurer, and tour guide, the first sentence out of my mouth is always the same:

You are an idiot if you don’t at least apply.

I was stuck. Sitting in a glass cubicle in an office that I hated. My headset clamped onto my temples too hard. My eyes strained from looking at a computer program built in the 90’s (don’t ask…the company had many problems. Being computer unintelligent was one of them). I had been out of college for almost a year and I had an hour-long commute to a dreary, cement building by a decaying harbor in the horrible town of Lynn, Massachusetts. On my lunch breaks in early spring, I would launch out of my seat, grab my sandwich and run out the door and down the street to the sand. The beach was the only comfort in that place. I would roll up the legs of my ugly office pants and stand in the numbing water, watching the planes take off from Logan Airport, and wishing I was on one of them. If I had a really horrible day, I’d let my hair down and jump on the swing-set, pointing my feet to the sky, wishing I was looking down instead of up.

And then I was; peering out of the little oval window down onto the same exact beach I had paced for months. The nose of the plane was pointed toward Rome.

I had thrown myself into a life-changing opportunity that began with a delayed flight and a last-minute solo trip through multiple countries. Which was appropriate, according to my track record of travel previously. And then it began. Life as Bus2alps knows it. And it was beautiful, and I learned. 

In the past year and a half, I have accumulated so much knowledge, experience, stress, life lessons, and happiness. I conquered public speaking. Give me a microphone and I can ramble for hours. ( I can even tell people to “PLEASE LISTEN BECAUSE THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT” without sounding like an incredible snot). I have learned to navigate cities I haven’t even been to. I have more patience with people than I ever thought possible. I have learned the art of persuasive speaking – in ways that can make a rainy day seem like just the waiting time for a rainbow. I can communicate in languages you have never even heard of. Not fluently, but, you know, like hand signals and stuff. Try asking for a fork in Croatian and see how far you get…I got salad tongs on my first try. I can also actually communicate in Italian, though it’s broken, and I sound like a two-year old. But I can understand almost everything, and if a bus driver comes at me in rapid Napolitano dialect, I can get the gist of it enough for me to know if I should duck and cover, or simply nod in agreement.

I can stomp up to a hotel manager and demand that his night staff treats my students more professionally, and he actually listens to me.  Like, he actually takes me seriously. I can discover alleyways that lead to perfect views of perfect historical monuments that allow travelers with me to take perfect pictures that make their trips perfect. I am proud of my fun facts and secrets too. I can work my way through the Constant Contact program with ease and send out mass emails like it’s my job. I can give a walking tour of Venice, Milan, Verona, and Florence. (And piece one together in Rome if need be) I can use Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, every major social media program in ways that help build a company, instead of just ways to pass around cute cat videos. (Though I can do that well too) I can make friends in any country, in any language, but I can also make business contacts as well. I can suck it up even when I’m having a bad day – because I have to – because my happiness is the key to others. I can sell you something without coming off as a pushy sales person. That may not mean that I am a salesperson or make millions, but if I am telling you to buy something, it means that I believe that you are perfect for this product and this product is perfect for you. (Sorry I’m not sorry.) I can now explain to you in great detail about international immigration laws. I can find beauty in even the most desolate parts of a town. I can be planning on leaving for Oktoberfest one minute, and be absolutely (ok not right away but I got there) ok with going to Croatia instead. I can navigate the Rome bus and subway system, the Venice vaporetti system, the Milan Subway, and the Vienna subway with ease. I can multitask like a mofo.  I can live out of a suitcase every weekend and be organized enough that I have everything I really need. I have learned how to look completely (ok not completely but close) calm when going through passport checkpoints.  I can pick a movie for a group of fifty individuals and have the majority like it (most of the time). I can give a pretty kick-ass boat tour around the isle of Capri. I can say I have grown to be more confident in myself with asking for directions when needed. I can say that I have matured more in a year than in all of high school and college put together. I can dress so that I look European enough that I don’t get questioned on the streets. I can find cheap flights easier than most.

I have learned so much (that list is only what comes to mind right now but it is so so so much longer than that)  and have been able to experience so much: Flying off into narrow canyons in the shadows of the Alps, diving into the crystal-blue waters off of Capri, making friends in Sorrento, eating too much chocolate in Perugia while winding down its narrow cobblestone alleyways, parading up the same church isle as Julie Andrews, skiing the Jungfrau area until my legs gave out and my eyes hurt from the greatness of the ice, snow, and rock of the Eiger looming above, eating fish off the bone on an island hopping cruise that took us to the tiny towns of Croatia boardered with colorful, worn, wooden boats, falling asleep while looking at the white-washed world under feet while heading to the top of Mt. Solaro, having a humbling conversation with a weathered Roman man on the bus to the Vatican, diving through canyons full of glacier runoff, discovering secret gardens, making gelato, finding the closest thing to Belle’s library and dancing around in it almost alone, seeing the Lippizaner Stallions breathe white puffs of air as they rest in their stalls in the center of Vienna, sledding at night under the biggest sky with the brightest stars I have ever seen, walking the halls of an emperor’s summer home as the moonlight glints on the marble floors – still in tact after centuries.  I’ve hiked up mountains as I listened to the sound of Swiss cowbells, swam through caves trying to avoid the sting of jellyfish – pink against the green water, glowing and reflecting on the rocks above.

I’ve listened to so many stories, of old men when they were young and fit, diving into the water from the nearby rooftops, I’ve met aspirational rappers, and mothers missing their children as they study in other parts of Europe. I’ve met butchers, farmers, and jewelry designers. I’ve met American students that fit the stereotypes so perfectly, I have to apologize for them, and others that have baffled me as to how inquisitive, smart, and kind they are – and how willing they are to learn about the world. I have met bearded guys on the train that kept me company, I’ve met pilots with daughters my age that are working in South America, I’ve met crazy, crazy people who like to base jump on their days off (and secretly wish I could go with them). I’ve met people who have followed their hearts across oceans, and now live completely different lives than they thought they would – simply because of love. I’ve  met many that have felt unwanted and discriminated by the United States, and because of this, I have learned even more than if I had just stayed home. I have met many, learned so much, but there is one that I have met and learned from that is above all of this: Rami.

Before Bus2alps had an office, our hours of internet were to be held in Astor Cafe – left side of the Duomo, you can’t miss it. And if you know me, you know the story. But Rami Saltagi was different and because of him I survived and thrived in this past year. I met him early, but soon was in love with him and soon my dream of living and working here with Bus2alps, coincided with living and working on my relationship with him.

Maybe that was my downfall, because I wanted to spend time with my boyfriend and my company. For, truthfully, Bus2alps is a lifestyle, not a job – and having anything else is definitely difficult. Maybe it was because I didn’t entirely “fit in” with the group of people who were my co-workers. Maybe it was because of mistakes I made early on in my life with Bus2alps that I couldn’t fix or make up. Maybe it was simply because I could not be a salesperson.

But recently, Bus2alps told me that I had to make a decision. One way, I would salvage my history with them and maintain my position in the company so I could travel with them and do what I love for at least another semester – but I would be making a conscious decision that may put my relationship in more legal trouble than it already is in. In the past year, I had given the company my everything. I had worked my ass off. I had done everything they asked of me legally to do to the point where I had nothing else to give. But this was asking too much.

The other option? Quit.

Sometimes, on the way to a dream, you get lost and find a better one. I got lost. Lost in the foam of a perfectly created cappuccino, lost in the echo of “BUONGIORNORAGAZZE” every morning, lost in the shadow of the Duomo, and lost in the brown eyes of a European.

Bus2alps was my dream, and I lived it for a year and a half. But now, I’m sitting in Florence, jobless, but completely satisfied knowing that I have found so much of a better dream than what I had in my head when I flew over that beach.

Maybe the second sentence about Bus2alps will be filled with painful truths and some warnings, but I shake them when I say the first. I make it stick, because flying here on that first plane, was the best decision I have ever made.

So, though I never was given a thank you, I will give one to them.

Thank you, Bus2alps, for allowing me to learn, to grow, to see Europe. Thank you for the opportunities, the lessons learned, the tough skin, the lows and the highs. Thank you for the stress – it only made me learn to deal with it better. Thank you for the demotions. It only made me work harder. Thank you for the days at the lake, the nights on the mountains, the dinners under the Tuscan sun and the toasts of Champagne to being young, wild, and free. And thank you, more than anything, for putting me in Florence, when I asked to be in Rome. And for having office hours at Astor every morning at 10 am.

Thank you, so.incredibly.much, for that.

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Stop worrying, start dreaming.

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It’s August. Breathe in. Breathe out. Stop looking at those plane tickets sitting on your desk. Stop counting down the days. It’ll come soon enough. Stop stressing about what to pack, will I miss home, will I miss peanut butter too much, how will I make friends, what will my room be like, will I eat too much Nutella and gain the study-abroad fifteen, will I be able to wear my clothes and not stand out, what will my nights be like, will I have fun, how in the world will I only bring fifty pounds of stuff, where do I want to travel, how many toiletries do I need to take with me, will I make friends, can I pass my classes, will I be able to get around without constant connection to the internet, what do I do about bidets, how many classes can I skip to travel, will I like the food, what will I do for fun, will I make it to Oktoberfest, can I get to learn the language, can I use my straightener without it blowing up, will my family miss me too much, will I hate not being at my college, will I be able to fit back in when I get home?

Stop it. Stop the worry, stop the stress, stop the thoughts. (and if you’re truthfully that worried, talk to one of our guides. We can honestly answer all of your questions.) But first, instead of doing that, take a break.

Instead focus on something like this: Walking cobblestone streets and calling them home, smelling fresh baked bread early in the mornings, the feel of your body plunging into waters off the coast of somewhere beautiful – the deep aqua-blue that you’ve only seen in pictures. Sitting in class and learning about the Coliseum, and then reaching out and touching its worn stones only hours later. Skyping your family from your apartment as you look out your window onto an incredible view of Dublin, the illuminated streets of Rome, or the late night street performers in Florence. Getting lost in the narrow streets and canals of Venice while you find the perfect Murano glass ring to give to your mother, paddling out into the surf off the coast of Portugal and catching your first wave back to shore, or walking out of the club as the sun rises over a new city you’ve come to love for it’s vibrance, music, life. Grabbing a ticket on a tour, getting on the bus, and sitting down in a seat next to a stranger, that you soon decide to jump out of a plane with a little later in the weekend, or fly down a canyon with in nothing but a wetsuit, life jacket, and funny helmet. Laughing at new inside-jokes at a local pub, learning the public transportation system down so well you begin helping tourists, and truthfully, becoming a local in a place that you have only dreamt about visiting. Living in, and loving Europe.

Imagine that.

Behind the Mainstream Study Abroad – Moments that are worth Duplicating

Sitting in my apartment, I can hear tourists pass by on the Florentine street outside my window. Some complain about the rain, others comment on how beautiful the Duomo is. Some girls pass talking about day trips they’ll do while they study here, while others scoff at the fact that there’s a Subway Sandwich shop across the street. “Are you kidding?! When there’s an amazing Panini place right around the corner?!” All the conversations are varied, yet so much the same – living or visiting this beautiful city and looking at it through the eyes of a foreigner. But sometimes, I wish I could tell them that they need to stop and step off the main path. Adventure. I wish I could share some experiences that are my favorite – but if you’re reading this – maybe you can recreate these moments.

 

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Sunrise somewhere: Before the tour groups step off their busses, before the restaurants open up their doors and unfurl their tablecloths out into the summer air, stroll the streets of dawn.

We woke when it was dark out and crawled out of bed, fumbling in the unfamiliar hotel room – donning jeans, a sweater, boots that I thought would make me fit in while I was in Italia. Caitlyn looked at me and questioned this decision, is it worth it? I responded with a resounding yes. I had done this before. We stepped outside our hotel – a small canal silently greeting us, a red rowboat sleeping peacefully in off-season air. And then we began, a walk through twisting and turning streets of dormant shops and ornate doors to come up upon the Grand Canal of Venice – just in time to see the golden sunset begin to shed light on the City of Bridges. Below us, the only boats were of the Venetians – Gondoliers uncovering their golden gilded boats, their striped shirts contrasting upon the rose and faded walls of an exhausted city. But in this moment, senza touristi, it became alive again. The real Venice; radiant in life instead of a travel book.

Conversation without Social Media: Turn off your phone when you travel. The person next to you could change your life.

I was lost in Rome, again, but managed to find a bus stop that seemed to point me in the right direction of the Vatican, I hoped. It wasn’t too crowded – not like rush hour when you are pressed up against other bodies, all just desperately clinging onto the bars and handles available. Now, in the evening chill, I stepped lightly into the orange bus and faced forward, beginning to search for signs that confirmed my arrival at the heart of Catholicism. He was quiet at first, and maybe it was my outfit that gave me away, but when the bus came to a stop at the next station, he patted my wrist. “Due piu” he smiled at me behind thick-rimmed glasses. Two more stops until the Vatican. When he realized I could speak minimal Italian, his face brightened, his brown eyes swam and he began teaching me the landmarks that were passing by the window. He spoke about the beauty of women when they don’t wear makeup: “that is when they look most beautiful, when they first wake up in the morning,” and as the Vatican came into view, he grinned, told me to drink the water from the fountains in the square and sent me off. A true Roman, he will be in my memory forever.

Adrenaline: Do something that scares you:

“I can’t wait,” I had boasted as we rode through the Swiss Alps. I saw the guide’s eyes flicker to my face in the rear-view mirror. I loved heights and adrenaline. I had seen my friends jump before, but canyon jumping was new to me – and as we pulled up to the bottom and saw another jumper fall gracefully into the crevice with a loud WHOOP, I was terrifyingly ecstatic. And the higher we climbed up to the platform, the more nerves began to creep into my system. The tremors in my legs began as I was fixed into the harness. I stepped out onto the metal grate with the guide. His smile was trumped by the sheer drop off behind him. “Are you ready?” he asked, and as I turned to face forward, I looked around. The Eiger was to my right – in the setting sun, in all of its glory – a Swiss Alp towered above us. Below, so, so far below, the river crashed over the rocks, daring me to jump, daring me to try and fly. Split second decision, my muscles moved, my feet left solid ground and I was falling, falling so fast, so far, my stomach clenched, my heart raced, it was too far, too fast, a free-fall like a bird soaring, and then the rope caught – swung me through past those that had already jumped, and back again. I could breathe, and as I looked up from where I had just come, I gave a “whoop” of my own. No roller coaster will ever compare.

Delve into other cultures: Break out of your comfort zone to begin to understand others.

“Here, I cannot speak with a girl like this,” he says. His dark brown eyes squint into the Moroccan sun, searching the horizon for the next surge of water from the Atlantic. I don’t understand what he means. I lean forward to look at him closer and the nose of my board settles into the water. He turns and glances at me and then back to the water, his dark brown shoulders glistening with droplets of salt water.

“If I want to speak with a Muslim girl, it is secret. No one can know. Here is one. Turn,” he leans toward me and pushes at my leg, eyes still on the ocean. I look out, see the swell, and obediently turn and lie on my blue and white surfboard, chin hitting wax, resting my eyes on the golden Moroccan sand with Mounir’s board and back to my left. Still sitting, his muscles ripple as he balances.

“That’s stupid,” I say over my shoulder. “How can you talk to them in private if you don’t know them?” The sun is hot. He chuckles and tickles my foot.

“Paddle.”

“I couldn’t be Muslim,” I say as I feel the wave build behind me. He laughs again and takes hold of the back of my board, one hand resting on my calf, he pats it twice. The earthen scent of Argan Oil from his skin drifts towards me on the breeze.

“No…you are too strong….paddle,” he reminds me.

I sweep my hands into the water and under my board, pushing. I hear the wave crashing to the right of me. I feel Mounir push me forward.

“Stand up!” he calls under his French/Arabic accent. The wave carries me from him, surging me toward the beach. I can feel the board bouncing on the tumult. My hands push up against the board, my muscles tense, legs bend. I stand and shift my weight, easing the board into the side of the wave, gliding it down the stretch of water. I push against the water, up and down, pumping the board parallel with the wave until it breaks. I glide to the shore with the foam, jump off, feel the grit of the sand under the soles of my feet. I turn toward the horizon, raising an arm up to shield the sun. His silhouette gives a thumbs up as the ocean glistens behind him.

Run, hike, bike, climb – while you are still young enough:

“You won’t last in jeans,” I tell the guys as they stand in front of me. It’s autumn in the Swiss Alps, about fifty degrees, and I’m in a tank top and shorts. “It’s too rough and you’ll be sweating in about fifteen minutes.” But they were stubborn and came anyway, and as we started our ascent, the hike grew steep and they started stripping layers. I hated to say I told them so. But it didn’t matter – because they were doing it. We talked as we hiked, getting glimpses of the snow-covered alps on the other side of the valley – with the town of Interlaken nestled before us. I learned about the group, their time abroad, their home life, what sports they played, and we stopped to take pictures along the way. It grew steeper, and sweat started pouring, the banter stopped, for we needed to breathe and muscles ached. We climbed up into the mountain pastures, collected water from a hollowed out log used as a basin for the spring water used to satisfy the thirst of the cows that grazed there in the summer – their bells chiming in an unorganized harmony. When we reached the summit, I turned to the group and was met with smiles and astonishment as they looked out over the lakes and mountains. “Thank God I did this and have the ability to do this,” one said to me. Take care of yourself and challenge yourself – for sometimes the best views are at the other end of a climb.

Summer is a’comin!

The street musicians are back in the cities and the coastlines are warming up, flowers are blooming and outdoor seating in the piazzas is popping up as quickly as the tulips; summer is coming, and Europeans couldn’t be more excited.  Stepping off the plane for a summer in Europe is exciting, stupendous, astounding, breathtaking, and sometimes a little annoying because of things you may miss from home – but seriously, it’s guaranteed to be one of the best summers of your life.

The heat of the summer is inevitable in Europe – especially in Italy, and other more southern areas. Regardless of where you are, there are ways to beat the head (even if you don’t have AC where you’re staying). Eat lots of frozen treats – granitas and gelato in Italy, for example. Have a fruit smoothie with locally grown fruits. Staying hydrated isn’t usually a problem in the cities (or even the little towns like Interlaken, Switzerland) because of the numerous water fountains located around the area. Some, like the one in Piazza Signioria in Florence, even have sparkling water as an option. This water is either glacial or at least pretty cold and much better than spending your money on bottled. Take advantage of it.

Also, make sure you stroll at night – when the city comes alive after the sun has set. Dress up for it and sit outside the bars or in the outdoor seating areas in restaurants (no open container laws usually!) and enjoy the summer night surrounded by the beauty of Europe. Take the high road and go to a vantage point above the cities as well. Most illuminate their most coveted monuments so a view of the cities at night is just as beautiful, if not more so than the day. Plus, the heat has resided so you may even enjoy yourself a little more. *Side note – in some cities at night, the mosquitoes are out. Prepare yourself by bringing repellant or at least a lotion to cool the bites afterwards!

Make sure to hit the beach at some point. Most Europeans do during the summer to beat the heat as well. Difference is – most beaches are paid here – meaning you throw a couple Euros their way, and you get to be treated like royalty with beach lounge chairs and your own umbrella. Usually this cost also includes showers (because the seas are pretty salty here) and sometime of changing area and food shack. Though different, it’s cool to feel welcome and fit in on a beach here. If you really miss just lying on the sand with your towel, you usually still can on a small area of “free beach” but it definitely isn’t as nice as the others.

But most of all, experience the European lifestyle as it is in the best season to see it – when everything is bustling and booming, and the European citizens are happy that the long winter is over. What you may miss with barbeques and Fouth of July parties, you’ll get back with food festivals in piazzas and beauty that is insurmountable. Good Luck with the flight over, and we’ll see you in the city!

            

Orientation is far from a conference room with Bus2alps

“It’s simple really,” Moos began as he stood at the top of the mountain, bathed in the light of headlamps from the other Outdoor Guides that had accompanied us up the gondola. He sat on the bright blue sled and demonstrated to us how to turn, stop, and gain as much speed as humanly possible.

“If you see white, you are ok. That is the snow on the track. If you see black in front of you, turn away from it because it is going to be someone, or something else that won’t be too nice to run into.”

And as the strobes of light move past the Swiss Chalets of Insenfluh, I stop and look out from our perch on the mountainside. The town below sparkles as bright as the stars and the Milky Way above; the faint outline of the snow-covered mountain range looming in between.

Not many people have gone night sledding before. And that included most of the Bus2alps guides on our orientation. Some fumbled nervously with their glow sticks (used as “break lights” on the track) while others, including myself, looked out at the beauty around us. But the silent moment of awe was soon replaced with the screams of us careening down a dim-white track of snow through the trees. And I don’t think I’ve ever had such a fun experience in my life.  Sledding turned into a Mario Kart-style race. Breaking with your feet, flying past co-workers, and that view still flickering through the trees.

Welcome to Orientation – Bus2alps style. Where “conferences” involve having chats at the top of a black diamond trail in the middle of the Alps. Yes, sure we were seated in front of Power Points occasionally (though the distraction of paragliders out the window does not help with attention span) and we did have meetings brainstorming ideas for the upcoming semester (make sure to keep checking in on our YouTube channel in the next few months) but those in charge at Bus2alps make sure to keep a pretty good balance of work and play, though most of us think the work IS play!

From night sledding followed by a cozy little fondue dinner, to skiing and sledding the alps the next day to learn the trails above the tree-line in the shadow of the Eiger peak of Switzerland. We here learn so we can show you. Fun, adventure, adrenaline, experience.

This is our job. We do it and learn it, so you can experience it.

We are getting ready for a bus2awesome adventure this semester!

Are you?

The Art of Skiing with Children

“So nowww…” I started to proclaim in a high-pitched overly-excited voice. I am facing uphill, skis pointing outward with a little forty-pound bundle of unhappy child in between. “…. I want you to make your skis into the shape of a pizza slice!” I try to make this sound like the best idea in the entire world. That this feat would earn him a sticker, a hot chocolate, a puppy, horse, million dollars. Fail. The little bright blue eyes peeking out of what seem like enough material to clothe a small army start to tear up.

“But I don’t like pizza!” the four-year-old Tyler started to moan. This is my last lesson of the day. It is only two degrees out. The two of us are the only ones out on the bunny slope. I want to cry too.

Why parents believe that their children actually want to be forced into snow suits and strapped into skis for a lesson at seven p.m. on a Tuesday night is beyond me. But they come in hordes; bringing gifts of tearful children and mittens that I have to readjust every five minutes because their “thumbs are disappeared” within the abundance of Gore-Tex and polar fleece. An odd situation for many, yes. But this is my job.

I am a ski instructor.

I was born on skis. My family owns a house in Danbury, NH, almost at the base of RaggedMountain. I learned to ski when I was three years old. My father dedicated seasons of skiing to teaching me when I was young – endless games of follow the leader, shadow, say what I say and do what I do. I never was in a real lesson. I had my dad. He was taught by a Swiss man. I excelled just with him because I liked pizza, but more importantly I liked the speed and the freedom that forced me down the slope once I had K2’s on my feet. I was captain of my high school’s ski team. Skiing is a passion of mine. The thought of sharing that passion with others by teaching seemed appealing. I signed up to become an instructor in the fall – when ski excitement is at it’s peak. I was ready.

I started teaching lessons at Ski Bradford in high school. Ski Bradford is not a mountain. It is a hill located in Haverhill, Massachusetts that someone decided to put a chairlift on. One can see the top from the bottom, and cruise every one of its twelve trails multiple times in a few hours. Yet, it serves its purpose. Many youth of the MerrimackValley come here to learn to ski and/or snowboard. Many youth work there. As with any small, family run business, there are quirks to the workday.

It begins in the lodge. A classic ski lodge equipped with an overpriced snack bar, walls of cubbies, round tables and a stone fireplace. It’s perfect, until the kids show up. When the yellow school busses pull into the muddy parking lot, there is only one word for the action that commences.

Chaos.

It’s a lodge built for two hundred people that pretends it can hold five hundred. Plus, for every one individual, there is double that of those god-awful mittens, a helmet that is sometimes heavier than the owner’s head, clunky boots, coats, hats, and scarves. The sounds are unique. Questions of “Where is (article of clothing)?” or statements like “My boots hurt!” echo across the small room. With some, the only visible body part is their eyes behind goggles. Other older children “forget” to bring hats, mittens, and sometimes ski in jeans because proper attire of snow pants was opted “out of style” in the pre-teen world. Unless one is capable of staking out one of the limited tables and defending it with their life and, occasionally, a spare ski pole, the lodge can be a terrifying experience. Instructors also have to share this space. And it does get slightly frustrating when one mother feels the need to take up an entire table so as to set up her laptop. I usually opt out of this hothouse and spend my time on the slopes.

When not in lessons, I love to tear down the trails in seconds; eyes tearing and nose frostbitten. Ski instructors can be pinpointed on any area of the mountain. We have a uniform, per se, with our silver and blue jackets complete with nametags. They allow us to control the mountain, to maintain order among the peons of the hill. But when the call comes over the loudspeaker, my fast paced fun ends, and that coat that just a minute ago gave free range of the ski area turns into a leash to the bunny slope. I assemble for “line up” at the bottom of the hill with my coworkers, awaiting our lesson assignment.

No one takes his or her job seriously here. How can you when half the time you are acting ridiculous to maintain attention? I can honestly say that about ninety percent of my co-workers can execute the choreographed Cotton-Eye Joe dance perfectly in ski boots. I am perfectly capable of walking into work outfitted in full spandex gear without shame. There was one particular day where I was seen toting around a snowball with two pennies for eyes. His name was Henry the Third and it was mandatory that he existed in my hands for the entire duration of this one little girl’s lesson. Yet, at the end of my two hours with her, she proceeded to place him (the snowball) on the Magic Carpet and bobble away in her bright red ski boots, as if sending him off to sea. Though, perhaps in her eyes it was a magical journey for her frozen friend. Everyone that has been to Bradford has had a special admiration for the carpet.

The magic carpet is nothing out of a Disney Movie. Rather, the skiers that use it look more like checked bags in an airport than Arabian royalty. The carpet is a moving sidewalk per se, for skiers. Skiing onto it, the ramp grips onto your skis and moves up a small incline to the top of the bunny slope. Though simple in design, the out of the ordinary set up of a moving piece of land in the midst of a white landscape does seem like magic. Instructors can skate (moving on flat land on skis) up and down alongside the carpet twice as fast as those taking the leisurely ride the fifty feet up. Though sometimes, the little ones need assistance on the carpet, so I go along for the ride. “Don’t try to walk! Don’t move your feet!” The same warnings are always stated multiple times, yet every year movement happens, and little skiers fall. Falling is common within ski lessons, yet the predicament is heightened when there is moving mechanics under one’s bottom, rather than stationery snow. When down for the count, the child is still (like luggage) moving right along, only now on one’s bottom, rather than one’s feet. Some flail until the operator shuts the carpet down, others are motionless – vegetables on a conveyer belt, staring up at the sky through their goggles until I come to the rescue.

One child gave the impression his legs were without bones. Ironically named Tripp, he took the art of pretending to have noodle-legs too far. He was three feet tall, flaming orange hair, and a freckle faced grin that let out giggles as if they were part of the breathing process. He could be seen purposefully wobbling stating “Ohhh no! I fallinggg!” and drop like a fallen log onto the snow, laughing all the way. Trying to pick him up, he would be dead weight; his helmeted head lolling with giggles, loving the fact I was struggling, thinking it was a game.

 “Tripp…” I’d groan. “Tripp you have to get up or we can’t ski down and have fun anymore!” He’d giggle and pretend not to hear- flailing his arms. He would eventually stand again, but only with the promise of  a fire truck sticker.  If I simply had Tripp, there would be no problem. But in that particular lesson, I had four three-year-olds. Usually, by three, humans have grasped the concept of standing. However, it seems that at any age, once skis are put on a beginner’s feet, the theory of controlling one’s own movements ceases to exist.

Therefore, in Tripp’s lesson, I had four of these little bodies who were surrendering themselves to gravity. I would line them up at the top of the hill like little soldiers, ready for a run, and one by one, they would tumble. Sara would start sliding forward, Beau would be moving in the direction of the Magic Carpet, Tripp would be on his back, and Nikki, good little Nikki, would be standing, arms out as if trying to grab onto something, trying desperately hard to stay in one spot, but failing miserably. Sometimes, instead of telling them to stay still, I’d have to persuade them, and the whole scene would go with slightly more conformity. “I’ll let you make snow angels if we can stand still for ten seconds!” or “If we can stand in line right now, we can go down the steep part of the hill next!”

Most of my day is persuading, haggling, and bartering. The little ones aren’t dumb. They have the what’s-in-it-for-me attitude. Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with business professionals, rather than children who think I’m old. One of the older ones asked me this past season what year I was born. When I told him 1988, he was almost bowled over by the shock of it.

At twenty-two, I’m not old. But when spending day to day with people who still can’t zip their own coats, according to them, I am ancient. For example: many of my analogies deal with some facet of Disney. The Magic Carpet, for example, is obviously a reference to Aladdin. Anyone my age would immediately understand. Yet, when I say, “You can be just like Princess Jasmine!” they turn their helmeted heads my way and look up at me in confusion.

“Who’s that?” They ask, blank faced. So I keep going.

“Do you know who Ariel is? King Triton? Snow White? Belle? The Beast? Bambi?! Cinderella?!” No light bulb goes on. Instead of knowing these characters that shaped my childhood, they talk of Justin Bieber and the Wiggles (which, in my opinion, are quite disturbing).

This makes me realize that I am old, or, older anyway. But with this job as an instructor, you can’t be old. Because you’re running around pretending you’re a hippo, duck, monster, horse, cat, dog, monster truck, snowflake (they make a SHHH sound FYI)   to make the kids laugh, or having snowball fights, or making snow angels, or singing at the top of your lungs on the chairlift. I like my job, not because of how much I’m paid (almost nothing), nor the deep freeze lessons with a ball of clothing that somewhere contains Tyler at seven at night, but because it’s a job where I can be as crazy as I want to be. At Bradford ski, the kids don’t mind if I don’t act “normal” or if I have the right grade point average. I don’t need to know what I’m going to do with my English degree after graduation.  I can be where I belong – on skis.

So if you’re ever in or around Haverhill next winter, stop by. Make your way through the lodge and come out for a lesson. But don’t complain about being cold, bring your own tissue because I am not wiping your nose, make sure you don’t lose your thumbs in your mittens, have bones in your legs, and like pizza. I promise you’ll be great.  I’ll even let you make a snowball friend with penny eyes; but only if I get to name him. He’ll be Henry. The Fourth.

Baptism by Fire- My Reintroduction to Travel in Europe

Interlaken in the rain

In my first twenty-four hours back in Europe, I learned some new things:

  1. The airplane Gods have a huge dislike for me.
  2. Nuns always smell the same
  3. No one knows anything in Milan train station except for the currency conversion clerk .
  4. Whenever plans go wrong, I meet some pretty interesting people.

New York – a city hated by most Bostonians, was also disliked by a certain Sox fan when her plane was delayed three hours. They boarded us just fine, after talking to a backpacker traveling to Rome to meet up with a girl that he had met while studying abroad last year. Her mother owns the Pop Inn next to Termini so he was going there to work and see her for the summer. But after sitting down and settling in (I even had my seatbelt on at this point) we were told we needed to deboard because of a problem that “may need us to fly in another plane…” Aye aye, captain. We grumbled off the plane, flooded into the terminal and did an about face, waiting for instruction that followed an hour and a half later, saying we were ready to reboard. Taxiing away from the terminal, the plane lost power, to which the humorous flight attendant then responded with “ok everyone go to bed!” and the captain, who had forgotten to shut the intercom off, got out “screw it, bring us back to the-“ before he realized we could hear him. Groaning ensued as we sat without air flow until somehow we did regain power and actually took off. You better believe that I was praying someone had a picture of Jesus flying with me on this flight – because it sure did calm my nerves when I went to Costa Rica and the woman in the seat next to me was carrying a rather large portrait complete with a rosary.

Even without the Jesus portrait, I arrived into Rome safely, but three hours behind schedule, led a few students through the mazes of Fiumicino, and then propped my computer on my suitcase and found Austin online who was the bearer of the bad news I had already predicted: they had left without me. And to catch the next train to begin my journey from the airport to the Termini train station, switch trains and head up to Milan, where I’d have to transfer again and then once more to arrive in Interlaken and head to Balmer’s all while carrying my 50.0 pound bag and backpack on my back.

Bring it.

I launched myself through the walkways and made it up to the ticket booth where I stumbled through my rusty Italian to explain what I needed. The man behind the counter informed me that my debit card wasn’t working and politely explained it was probably because of my bank. I politely as I could explained that I had taken all the necessary precautions to make sure that this DIDN’T happen as I sighed and pushed my credit card towards him – of course, that worked perfectly fine. Onto the train, off in Termini and, sprinting, back on to a train to Milan (“Your seat is on car nove. You are at due. Run”) where I sat across from a nun that was very quiet the entire time but smelled exactly like my elementary school principal – oddly enough, a nun as well. Getting off of that train, I was filed into Milan train station and began my wild goose chase for a. a train ticket to get somewhere in the vicinity of Switzerland because my train did not exist. And then b. a payphone to gain further knowledge of my terrible mess of a plan.

In line, with a 50 pound bag, a backpack and a line of people “dieci” long according to the three year old counting to his father behind me. When I finally reached the counter, I spoke in Italian and asked for a ticket to Interlaken via Spiez. The man rolled his eyes as if I asked to go to the moon via boat. He told me there were no trains. I told him I was told there was one at 7:30. He shot me down. I scoured the terminal for another ticket window – asking the store owners, the Cabanieri  (just one more example of how they are not the most helpful people) and all pointed me directly back down to where I had just been.Perhaps it was my sweaty forehead that made the conductor stop, but he helped me (does stress induce better Italian language skills?) by explaining that there was no train, pulled out his schedule to show me this, and then gave me advice to tell me what train to take instead.

With this information, I needed to inform bus2alps what my new plan was. Trying to find a payphone was even more dramatic endeavor . My arms were aching from the bag and the moving sidewalks had a minimal effect on the up and down flights. On this round of inquiry, I was repeatedly directed towards the same non-functioning phone conveniently located directly in front of the whirring train engines and loudspeaker for announcements. Another round of asking for directions led me to the currency converter office, wherein a very nice man knew enough English to tell me there was another phone hidden between the mobile tabaccheria and a telephone pole. I couldn’t fit into the spot with my backpack on. Battling the noise of the trains, I called Austin. He and CJ helped me get a new ticket and I jumped on the train. I switched trains and switched boarders as I pointed out Lake Como out my window to my new friends – the bearded travelers that I had squeezed next to after realizing my real seat was three cars down and I refused to make it that far.

While riding, they spoke about their travels to Sardinia without a map, how they rented a car and drove blind through the countryside, coming upon a restaurant with a local delicacy of cheese processed with live maggots (they had horrible pictures to prove it), and how they slept in said car for the night on the coast, and woke with the most beautiful sunset. We spoke about past travels as we sped through the mountainous regions of northern Italy, and stopped as the conductors changed from Italian to Swiss on the border. It was then the boys decided that they were riding the train out as far as possible. They had a tent, anyway. It wouldn’t matter if there was a hostel or not. On the smoke break, we met a girl from the next car from Belgium who was kind enough to draw out a large and detailed map of the downtown area, complete with the best waffle places. She was traveling around Germany for a few weeks. It was in this time span that the train almost emptied out because of the late hour and one of the boys, Franklin courteously pointed out that the wheel on my luggage had perished in the struggle. Lopsided and hanging on by a thread, I then realized why it had been more and more difficult to lug the bag through Milan. Now, with one wheel and 50lbs, I hoped that the rest of my journey would be in association with people with arm muscles, or I was going to grow some pretty quickly.

As requested by Austin, I jumped off the train at a stop called Olten at about 2ish in the morning where I sat with construction workers whistling away in the background until my knight in shining white armor came to take me away into the mountains…just kidding it was only Mike LaPorta but it was still wonderful to relax in the seat and brought right to the front door of Balmers.

Finally pulling into Interlaken, I was partially in dream mode to begin with, but walking into Balmers didn’t feel real. The last time I left, I didn’t think I’d be there again, never mind in two years for a job.  I was led up to a room and my bags were flung into the dark. “Have fun trying to find an open bunk” – Thanks Mike. But thankfully a cell phone lit up on the right of me and T helped me to my top bunk in the corner where I dramatically collapsed under a patchwork quilt that made me feel as if I was home and put me instantly to sleep.

In the morning, I woke up to sunlight streaming through the curtains. The mountains of Interlaken, covered in snow, stood tall in the backdrop of Balmer’s. All was well in life. Missing flights means making friends. It may require a little extra effort and stress, but the best stories come from travel woes. Europe knew me too well to give me an easy travel day.I’ll call it training for the best job I could ever think of. If the travel god’s haze me a bit, I think I can handle it.